Note 9 First Impressions


I picked up a Note 9 and want to share my initial thoughts. But first, a quick History of my last few years in mobile.

When I moved off of my beloved Windows Phone, I spent some good time with the Note 5 and loved it. Then came the Note 7 but we all know what happened there. So, I moved to a Pixel, then Moto Z Force Droid and finally a Pixel 2 XL (but after dabbing a little in the Note 8.) The Pixel has been the best phone since my Lumia ICON.

Like Paul, Camera is HUGE for me…top of the list. Beyond some things here and there, the Pixel phones haven’t let me down on the camera.

The Note series has always seemed to be a complete, if perhaps, “dream” smartphone, packed with a ton of features and I always found the S-Pen to be very useful.

Spending time with a Pixel and then going back to a Note, in this case the Note 8, I soon realized that Samsung has a lot of bloat. Bixby, duplicate apps, their own app store, menus, etc. I end up missing stock Android. And I don’t want to “hide” from everything by loading a different launcher. That in itself feels bloated and heavy.

Same applies for the Note 9. But here are my random, first thoughts.

·        Screen is amazing. Best I’ve seen on any smartphone.

·        Performance is consistent and snappy.

·        I actually like the edge screen options. I tend to be all widgets on home screens so this is a good place to put app folders.

·        Camera, so far, is a let down, especially when it is essentially the same as in the S9+ and it was rated higher than Pixel 2 XL. I went to take a “Live Focus” (Portrait) photo of my daughter at the bus stop today and it was blurry and never could get it to work correctly.

·        Low light is terrible compared to the Pixel 2 XL, especially if the subject moves even in the slightest.

·        Low light selfie with the screen flash produces grainy shots, which may be expected but the Pixel does it better.

·        Camera, when it has ample conditions, does take some great shots and you can zoom and maintain some incredible detail.

·        Samsung Experience (TouchWiz) is fine but I do not like the rounded squares. I’ve tried looking for themes but nothing truly looks great.

·        Bixby…oh Bixby. Can you just please go home? I’ve turned off the Bixby cards, home page and also voice. It is still there yes it is just not needed in the world of Google Assistant.

·        Battery Life is good but even with 4000mAh battery, I feel that the Pixel 2 XL may still have the battery battery efficiency. I feel I may be back to charging every 12-18 hours whereas my Pixel can go just about 24 hours before I charge it. 

Bottom line…it may go back, as soon as tomorrow. Unless someone can convince me that I’m using the camera wrong, I am very unimpressed. Despite those performance lags I’ve had with the Pixel 2 XL and the upcoming “Notch”, I think I’m going to stay with the Pixel line, especially if the camera remains the most consistently awesome camera that it is.

Comments (27)

27 responses to “Note 9 First Impressions”

  1. Paul Thurrott

    Nice, thanks for this writeup.

  2. curtisspendlove

    I also appreciate this post. I’ve been considering a surprise upgrade for my wife.

    She has always loved the Note since she got her first Note 4. She “had a feeling” to skip the 7, so we did. And she got an S7 Edge instead. She uses her tablet more than her phone nowadays, but I still think she would enjoy a new Note.

    This is her upgrade year so I’m thinking a Note 9 and a Surface Pro or Surface Book for her digital drawing. (I’m trying to “go big” for her this year because I want to upgrade my Macs and gaming rig next year. Yes, I’m selfish—sue me. Honestly she just hasn’t given much guidance beyond her STabs over the last few years.)


  3. wolters

    In reply to Thumperyz69:

    The Camera on the Pixel 2 XL is still more reliable overall than the Note 9 even if the Note 9 can take amazing pictures and the Super Slo-Mo is amazing.

    My Pixel 2 XL Problems were the general performance issues as mentioned and Bluetooth wonkiness in my Jeep Cherokee would be the source of frustration.

    Battery life has always been great for me.

    I know I stated in my original post that the Note 9 will go back before the weekend. I'm still using it. Can't stop.

  4. wolters

    Final Thoughts on the Note 9.

    • The screen is purely the best I've seen on a smart phone.
    • The features are quite useful if you take the time to discover them and learn how to use them. Do I dare say that the Galaxy App store isn't so bad when it provides this additional apps that add value to the phone (Sound Assistant, Edge Lighting+, Voice Recorder, Car Mode to name a few.)
    • After my initial photos coming out poor, the camera has matched the quality of my Pixel 2 XL with no performance hiccups. While slow, the AI for determining the subject of the photo works rather well and it is worth waiting for it to detect.
    • The Note phones have always felt like a complete "PC" in your pocket.

    I did notice that the Microsoft Store has a selection of Samsung companion apps but most are half baked or say they are not compatible with the PC or device I am using (Those apps install on my Surface Book but not my Dell XPS at work.) Samsung Notes app works fine on the desktop...Samsung Messages, not so much. You cannot view media or attachments as it directs you to check the phone. Android Messages with it's desktop text app is far superior. Samsung Gallery seems half baked.

    Samsung Health, is far superior than anything I've used for health tracking and might equal Fitbit on many features (see my post about Galaxy Watch.)

    If Samsung wants to be its own "ecosystem", they need to make their companion apps, as a whole, a lot better.

    I initially posted that it may go back over the weekend. I'm still using it and holding on to it. It is in the running to be my phone of choice but will watch the Pixel 3 XL announcement closely.

    If you don't mind the Samsung Experience along with it's own apps, app store and Bixby, you will find the most complete Android Smart Phone on the market.

    • Xatom

      In reply to wolters:

      Glad you came around in the end. This is the best smartphone of 2018 including the upcoming Apple releases. Your last sentence though is simple prejudice. Save the Samsung skin vs 'pure' Android red herring ie big whoop, you have access to play store and google apps. Samsung apps and app store is little cost bonus ie a kb's of storage. Oh and the Bixby button but still have access to google assistant.

      Based in where the high end devices stand, there is little difference at the premium level-imo screen quality, battery life, headphone jack and app investment/pain and suffering of learning curve are the critical decision criteria. The rest are marginal differences.

      • wolters

        In reply to Xatom:

        I have to admit...I'm still using the phone as of today.

        I'm starting to believe this is the best, all round Smartphone of 2018...I think it will have the Pixel 3 XL beat, especially if we don't want the notch.

        • Xatom

          In reply to wolters:

          The notch. As ridiculous as any design choice ever. Any companies copying are pretty darn laughable. Face ID is a solution in search of a problem and demonstrates you are bereft of any new ideas you can implement given the current state of technology. Hence differences are all at the margins. Screen and battery life and for me a headphone jack are what matter. Of course inertia also matters.

    • jprestig

      In reply to wolters:

      How's the battery been?

      • wolters

        In reply to jprestig:

        Sorry, forgot to post that. Battery has been good but not as great as my Pixel 2 XL. Moderate use on my Pixel 2 XL, I could go 24 hours before plugging it in. The Note 9 seems to suck more power but compared to the past notes, the battery life is much improved. I can go maybe 18 hours moderate use before needing some charge, at least to feel comfortable with the charge. Wireless charging is slower than I want out of something labeled as "Fast Charge" but acceptable.

  5. Winner

    I have a Pixel 2 XL and my wife has the Note 8.

    Your findings mirror my own experiences.

    One thing I would add is that the small and rectangular FP sensor is finicky and slow and unreliable as compared to the Pixel. My wife has some weird body chemistry where she basically only gets a positive unlock on her Note 8 about 30% of the time. We've retrained it repeatedly. Yet the Pixel unlocks every time without fail.

    I'm also used to the power and volume on the same side of the phone. On the Samsungs the volume is way far away up high opposite your right hand. And you can easily hit that damn Bixby button instead of the volume by accident.

    And yes, the Pixel's camera is way better. But the Samsung's screen is way better. I've put my Pixel screen on Boost to saturate it a bit more.

    • wolters

      In reply to Winner:

      The Note 9 has grown on me some and the camera is doing better than it did initially. I plan on doing some serious side by side tests with the Note 9 and Pixel soon.

  6. wolters

    Day 3 Thoughts

    • The screen continues to blow me away. So very clear and sharp.
    • Performance also continues to be consistent.
    • I'm getting used to the camera and I've been taking better pictures and the quality when you zoom in blows the Pixel 2 XL away.
    • I've added the Galaxy Watch (and posted thoughts in the forums) and it has surprised me how much I am liking it and well well integrated Android notifications are compared to the first time I had one. The show stopper may be the fact Samsung us dropping connected services September 1st and I use Runkeeper and a Bluetooth Scale that work fine with Google Fit.

  7. wolters

    Day 2 Impressions

    • The battery, with moderate use is not quite making it 24 hours before needing a little charge.
    • Camera fared better last night, as I tried low to lower lite settings. I've made a few samples available HERE
    • The screen is so amazing.
    • Performance seems to pass what I was getting on the Pixel 2 XL, even on a recently factory reset Pixel 2 XL.
    • The Samsung Rugged Case with kickstand looks and feels much better than what you may think. It is very nice.

    What I'm missing from the Pixel thus far

    • Pie
    • Now Playing automatically working in the background.
    • Pixel Launcher
    • Squeeze to launch Google Assistant.

    I didn't list the camera as I am getting used to it and it is snapping better pictures.

    I am actually going to try a Galaxy Watch today to get the full Samsung Experience, though I will stick with Android Messages so I can continue to get desktop access to my texts.

  8. Tony Barrett

    Customization is key to Android, and it's no different to the Note 9. You can change pretty much anything you want, including the launcher. I've never liked Touchwiz on the Samsung phones I've owned, so I changed it. Don't like the icons, then change them. Don't like the camera app - then get a better one (I know Samsung released a day 1 patch for the camera on the Note 9). All in all, the new Note is probably an incredible device - but if the camera is *that* important to you, then that should be number #1 on your priority list, so look around - but the Pixel's do have incredible cameras.

  9. Xatom

    It's okay to be a fanboi but the lady doth protest too much, me thinks. Rounded squares-give me a break. So tired of reading about 'duplicate'apps. some Samsung apps are better some arent. i disable most Google apps asap eg play music and movies-gone in a flash. Some are great but many are bloatware as well. And stock Android is another joke. if i wanted stock i'd get an iphone. Choosing your launcher of choice is part of Android's value prop. Neither recent Galaxies or Notes feel bloated or slow unless you are a cheerleader. As for the camera, purely personal preference. Differences are at the margins. Oh yea and an actual headphone jack for real people in the real world.

    i spend my time using the screen and that and battery life are what matter most.

    Just say i love Google. No one will mind. At least we will understand your bias.

  10. Bob Shutts

    It's a big device. Any issue carrying around?

    • wolters

      In reply to Bob_Shutts:

      I currently have it in the Rugged Samsung case (that has a kickstand). It is slim enough to fit in a front or back pocket and doesn't feel much heavier than the Pixel. Samsung have gotten taller but not wider.

      Overall, the size doesn't pose a problem...

  11. jprestig

    Thanks for this post. I've been tempted, but I had the Note 8 for about 6 months before jumping back to an iPhone. I liked the Note, but battery life was terrible for me. Seems like even with the bigger battery, it's still not stellar. I think what always tempts me with the Samsung lineup is their screen quality. They just look so darn good. But once the honeymoon with that is over, I'm reminded about all the other aspects I'm not a huge fan of(Bixby, hit-or-miss camera, battery life, etc).

    • wolters

      In reply to jprestig:

      Perfectly said.

      If I keep this over the weekend, I will update the battery performance. I took it off the charger at 100% last night at 5PM and as of 9:28AM CDT, it is 22%. That is with moderately heavy use installing more apps when I got home, so this may be acceptable.

      The screen quality is so very tempting. When sitting side by side with the Pixel 2 XL, it is no contest. The Pixel 2 XL looks drab compared to it.

      Bixby, hit or miss camera, battery life (though it may be better), duplicate apps, slow OS updates. I think the cons outweigh the pros.

      And as I pop the Note 9 just to check a notification, that screen tempts me yet again. Oh that screen!

  12. nicholas_kathrein

    Thanks for the quick review. Isn't it amazing how the best photos on phones were either the iphone or the lumia 1020 and Android was just plain bad at photos. Just 3 to 5 years later Google is making phones and from their very first phone they nailed the camera in such a way that next generation phones are still not as good as a year old Google Pixel. As it stands today I wouldn't trade in my Pixel2 XL for any phone out today. The Note just came out and is close but for myself I just loves Google Pixels version of Android and won't put up with Samsungs doing their own software skins not to make it better but instead to make it theirs so they could switch the OS later without customers knowing.

    • wolters

      In reply to Nicholas_Kathrein:

      Thank you for the comments.

      Agreed...The Google Pixel has nailed the camera. No doubt about it. The Note series has always had capable cameras but more and more, they tend to take bad shots or it over compensates the photo. To be honest, the Moto Z Force Droid had an amazing camera, marred by bad software (that Camera app crashed way too often, resulting in lost video.) Nothing has come close to the Lumia days like Pixel has.

      So, I am sitting here, looking at the Note 9 and Pixel 2 XL sitting side by side, contemplating boxing the Note 9 up and sending it back (we have 30 days with our Verizon Account.) I have to say, the Note 9 screen is amazing and tempting to hold on to. I may go out today at lunch and try some photo comparisons but I also think, why bother. As you said, Google nailed it.

      • nicholas_kathrein

        In reply to wolters:

        I agree that the Note line has always had the best screens but to me you not going to notice the difference when you don't have that screen next to it. I'd bet you like the new pixel 3 xl better as that screen looks great in the leaked Russian photos. I know the notch is 2x as deep as the iphone 10 but it's 1/2 as wide. Everything else about it looks good to me at least. I think when looking at it in real life the notch won't be a glaring as it appears in photos.

        • wolters

          In reply to Nicholas_Kathrein:

          I hope Google doesn't let me down with the Pixel 3 XL and I do hope the rumors are true about being able to turn off the notch. If not, I could live with it if the camera continues to impress.

          Side note - I sure hope this "Pixel Watch" is a grand slam for WearOS. I've used WearOS for several years and I've defended it. I agree, it's health options need to be improved and Google's recent Google Fit update is a good step in that direction. But why, oh why did they remove the widget from the new Google Fit? Glance and go has been the best thing about widgets...sounds like a good idea for a new phone OS...oh wait! :(

          And side note, why is someone hitting you with down votes in your two posts in this thread?

          • nicholas_kathrein

            In reply to wolters:

            I have a Pixel 2XL and can't justify to the wife to get a new phone each year so I won't be able to buy this years phone but I don't have a watch yet because other than year one when Motorola was killing it with the Moto X and the Moto Watch I haven't see any inprovement with SOCs that drove down the sheer size of them. Now with that new Qualcom watch SOC being released any day now I really think Google can really make a nice watch.

            Don't forget that the pixel 3 is being made by Foxcon so the quality should be up their with iPhones this year. Foxcon knows how to build phones. I'm not sure who is making the watch but if I was Google and I really thought I made a great looking and working watch that looks nice on men and woman I'd make a ton of watches and bundle them with the phone for $125 even if I lost money on it. Kind of like a Google Home mini is a loss leader most of the time when they are on sale. That way they get them out there and in a few years people like them and they can come out with a new version that they can charge what Apple does.

            Not sure why people vote me down. It doesn't bother me though.

  13. wolters

    Follow Up -

    Just wanted to share my thoughts now that I am several weeks into the Note 9. Keep in mind, I'm still torn between Pure Android and Pixel and the awesome hardware and accessories from Samsung.

    • The Camera is a lot better than I gave it credit for early on. Just took some to get used to how to take the best, consistent shots.
    • The hardware is just so beautiful. I love the Duo Charging pad for the phone and Galaxy Watch as well. Let me say again that the display is just so amazing...when next to my wife's Pixel 2 XL, it just blows it away.
    • I've not missed Pie but over time, I'm going to want to see it on the Note 9.
    • If Samsung truly wants you to be in their "ecosystem", their apps need to be better than Google's. Those Samsung apps in the Windows Store are half-baked and won't even install on some hardware.
    • I'm getting a day in moderate use with the phone, about on par with the Pixel 2 XL.
    • Bixby is still in the way. I try to use it now and then for quick reminders but it is so, so far behind Google Assistant.

    I'm liking the Note 9 / Galaxy Watch Combo (but the Galaxy Watch works perfectly on wife's Pixel 2 XL) and I'd really like to see some surprises with the Google Announcement.